Animating the corps

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It’s alive! Tearing off the mask of convention to show the fresh face of artistic innovation comes Complexions, a company (and a show) dedicated to reaching up and out of the precincts of canonical dance.

The New York troupe, founded in 1994 by artistic directors Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden, is a work in progress toward creating a universal voice through dance. Their ardent negotiation of the body’s capabilities through movement has solidified an eminent place for Complexions on the cutting edge of modern dance.

Through intense exploration of tension and release, the company’s fiery style is a captivating blend of edgy ballet and modern dance infused with a kaleidoscope of cultural influences. Their artistic mission is “to reflect and comment on the political, social and emotional issues which are relevant not only to this generation, but which speak to all generations in a timeless and universal voice.” And they’re well on the road to instituting this power of speech.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that both artistic directors have résumés to rival the top names in dance today. Rhoden left his role as a dancer with Alvin Ailey to pursue a career as a choreographer for television, film and major American companies, including the Joffrey Ballet, Philadanco and Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Featured dancer Richardson danced with Ailey for seven years, and also performed with American Ballet Theater, the Frankfurt Ballet and on Broadway. He was nominated for a Tony award in 1999 for his performance in the musical Fosse. Forming a team, the two challenge each other to persist in their unique quest for a dynamic, ultramodern piece of the pie in the sky.

Adding to the already piquant flavor of their former company, the pair infuses their mixture of ballet, street dance and hip hop with the sundry influences of people from outside disciplines. Rather than being comprised of only established dancers, Complexions brings costume designers, composers and other artists onto the stage to explore the mutual space shared by different domains. The group pushes the artistic envelope by denying boundaries of age, size, culture and background in favor of a triumphant celebration of the power of diversity.

The company’s exuberant arrangements are set to music as varied as its cast, ranging from Björk and Portishead to ’70s disco and James Brown. The sensual playfulness of the art form is played up with brightly colored costumes that reflect a contemporary street aesthetic.

In this day of “extreme” everything, it’s only natural that the creative world would take heed of the somewhat vague label we now affix to everything from bubble gum flavors to in-line skating — hence the introduction of “extreme dance” to our vernacular. As opposed to some of its counterparts, “extreme dance” justifies being called so. Rhoden’s self-professed love of “extreme angles” is a compelling paradigm of the way his brand of movement breaks from the established landscape of dance. His vision thrives in a climate of experimentation and radical confrontation of the body’s limits. The choreographer’s favored nonlinear composition is symptomatic of the duo’s desire to “reflect and share the intensity, freedom and energy of our time by harnessing various multimedia: film, television, improvisation, fashion, photography, poetry, theater, urban street dance and pop culture.” In other words, Complexions seeks to generate art without adhering to genre borders of the past.

The artistic co-directors founded the ensemble on a mutual love of dance and continue to persevere in the spirit of innovation. Strict attention to artistry and unparalleled momentum destine Complexions to change the face, and perhaps body, of dance in America.


Complexions takes the stage Friday and Saturday, Oct. 18-19, at Music Hall for the Performing Arts, 350 Madison, Detroit; call Ticketmaster at 248-645-6666 or the Music Hall box office at 313-963-2366.

E-mail Katie McGowan at [email protected]
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